Chicago Club Owners Sue TikToker Over Viral Video in River North

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Six days after a 22-year-old TikTok user accused the staff at a River North bar of shoving her down a flight of stairs, the ownership of the Hubbard Inn has filed a lawsuit against Julia Reel, claiming her video defamed the venue and negatively impacted business with a flood of critical online reviews and canceled reservations.

In a now-deleted TikTok post, Reel said a bouncer sent her “flying down the staircase.” The lawsuit, filed Monday in Cook County court, claims the video was shared more than 100,000 times.

“I’m just pushed down. He sends me flying down the staircase,” Reel said in a now-deleted video on TikTok. It even led to an entry on Know Your Meme, a popular website dedicated to chronicling Internet culture. Notable Internet accounts have picked up on the controversy, labeled Reel a “Karen,” and noted she’s taken down her social media profiles.

Even before their lawsuit, management at Hubbard Inn struck back with their own video posted on March 14 that attempted to refute Reel’s claims with security camera footage. It’s been liked more than 233,000 times: “Below is footage of Ms. Reel walking down the stairs toward the exit. She was politely escorted off the premises, ensuring a safe exit,” captions in the bar’s video read.

The lawsuit claims Hubbard Inn repeatedly asked Reel to take down her post after staff received violent threats. She was also invited to view their security footage.

Reel and Hubbard Inn owner Carmen Rossi declined comment to the Sun-Times. In this age of social media, Reel’s attorneys released their own TikTok video that described the Hubbard Inn’s response as “self serving” and that Reel suffered a concussion and visible lacerations. The statement urged the public to avoid “a rush to judgment and/or victim shaming.”

Reel filed a police report, according to the Sun-Times. The report states she visited the hospital and was treated for a “bruised up arm and head,” which struck the floor. There’s no mention of a concussion in the report.

According to the report, a security guard pulled Reel out of a restroom stall while she was urinating and said, “We know what you are doing,” and before she could fully dress, she was pushed toward the exit.

Rossi, himself an attorney — with a strong social media presence — was fined in 2023 for violating lobbying rules, according to the Sun-Times.

Influencer culture is a complicated one in the world of restaurants. Author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt ignited a conversation last week on Instagram over “pay-to-play” tactics, the practice of restaurants paying for meals or drinks in exchange for positive social media posts with the hope of attracting customers. The Hubbard Inn’s video response was unique — often chefs and owners don’t fare well in responding to negative reviews online. Of course, not all influencers operate in that matter, and it’s easy to paint with broad strokes. One restaurant owner tells Eater that while many venues don’t have a video production team or the time to respond to influencers, the public may see more of this in the future.

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